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Rigging Your Boat for Tournaments

Preparation can be the difference between a loss or a win
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Imagine you’re in a major walleye championship tournament on a large lake in the Midwest.  You’ve spent all summer fishing qualifying tournaments; along the way you spent a lot of money on entry fees, gas and hotels.  You are one of only fifty people to make it to this championship; $100,000 first prize is at stake.  This is your life long dream.  You’re competing against the big names in walleye fishing.  You’ve been on big fish all through the pre-fish and you have what you believe is a winning weight in the livewell.  It’s time to go if you’re going to make it back to the weigh-in on time. 

The wind has picked up and you need to run in four foot waves for thirty miles to make it back.  Will you make it back in time?  Or will the kicker or bow mount motor fall off as you push the boat hard through the waves?  You turn the key and aargh, nothing happens!  You’ve been running electronics and the livewell all day and the battery is dead.  Fortunately, you’ve got jumper cables and can jump from one of the three trolling motor batteries (if you put a full charge on them last night).  Hopefully this can be resolved quickly because running fast in big waves is a good way to spin a prop.  It’s a good thing you brought the spare with extra hardware in case you need it. 

Sound stressful?  It can be if you’re not prepared.  Tournament fishing is demanding on the angler and the angler’s equipment.  Equipment that breaks down during a tournament can end your tournament or worse.  The average angler wouldn’t go out on many of the days that the tournament angler does nor does the average angler have as much financial risk at stake. 

The tournament boat is what takes the competitor to and from the fish and is used to present the bait.  The equipment on the boat is what makes it possible to find, catch, and keep fish (and you) alive.  Everything has to work reliably. Quality tournament boat rigging takes time and care. 

Let’s start with how things are attached to the boat.  These boats take a lot of vibration, through the waves or even when trailering down the highway.  Where ever possible anything attached to the boat should be bolted through instead of held in place with screws.  The nuts used should be of the nylon locking type.  If bolting to a material like plastic or the thin aluminum on the gunwales (found on some brands of boats) use a backing material (wood or thicker metal) and/or large fender washers.  Where screws must be used or when nylon locking nuts are unavailable, use some type of thread lock compound to prevent the screws from backing out.

Apply thread lock compound

Reliable connections to electronics are a must.  The loss of GPS waypoints or sonar in a tournament situation can create a difficult situation.  If you need to splice wires, use heavy enough wire to handle the load for the distance from the battery.   For best signal quality and to eliminate interference from other electronic devices, the sonar units should be connected directly to the battery, not to a junction box.  When connecting directly to the battery, inline fuses should be used. These should be as close to the battery as possible.  Be sure to solder all connections and use heat shrink tubing to seal the splices.

Solder and shrink wrap wire splices

Locate your electronics where they can be seen easily and don’t interfere with your view of where you’re going.  Before drilling any holes, be sure to check that they’ll be where you want them.  Mount your GPS antenna away from places where anything can interfere with the satellite signal.

Locate electronics with care

If you are mounting a VHF marine radio, be sure to mount the microphone somewhere where it won’t get water in it from rain or spray.  Most radio failures are due to water in the microphone.  Mount the antenna away from other electronics and where it won’t interfere with casting, setting rods for trolling, or netting fish.
When mounting anything that could be below the water line in the boat, be sure to use a silicone sealer on all screw heads.

Seal all screws below the water line

Sonar transducer location is extremely important.  The transducer needs to be low enough that it is in the water even when the boat is on plane.  It also needs to be located in a position where the water is smoothly flowing under the boat.  Some boats have strakes or rivets that disturb the water flowing under the boat.  Be aware of where these disturbances are before mounting your transducer or you will not get a clean signal when the boat is on plane.  These areas are easy to find by watching the water flow behind the boat while someone else is driving it on plane.  The smooth water will be dark.  Note these locations and move the transducer as necessary. 

You should also mount the transducer on the opposite side of the kicker motor, at least one foot away from the main motor. Using a transducer plate to mount transducers allows you to move the transducer if you need to without having to drill more holes in the boat.


Don’t forget that transducers must be positioned where they won’t get broken off when loading the boat on the trailer.

Mount tranducer in smooth water zone and clip down cable

Be sure to use a cable clamp on the transducer cable (mounted to the transom) so that if the transducer does get knocked off by something when you’re going sixty miles per hour that it doesn’t come flying in the boat and hit somebody.

Tie everything down for travel in rough water. A strap on the bow mount trolling motor will keep it from flopping around. A strap on the kicker and a support for the mount will keep the kicker from falling off. The mounts and tilt locks on most kickers are not meant for the shock from big waves and fast boats. Strapping it all down will help. Using a kicker lift, like those from Panther or a support from Bracket Pro will tie everything down without relying on the tilt lock.

Strap down the motors

To be sure that your battery is able to start the engine at the end of the day you either need to put in a large deep cycle battery to replace your starting battery or put in a second battery just for the electronics and livewells. If you opt for the one large battery, be sure that it has enough cranking amps to start the big motor (check your owners manual). I’ve chosen to run my outboard and kicker off of the starting battery and put in a deep cycle just for the sonars, live wells, bilge pumps and other accessories. Evinrude has a charge kit that can be installed so that the second battery gets charged when the main motor is running. Even so, charge everything at the end of every tournament day just to be sure.

Walleye tournament boats are usually big (18 feet or more with deep hulls). This means you need a powerful electric trolling motor with a long shaft. It will stay in the water in waves and have the power to pull the boat in heavy wind. I chose to run a 101 pound thrust, 36 volt, 62 inch Minnkota motor on the bow of my 20 foot boat. This is the biggest trolling motor that I can get. But it also means that I have a group of three large deep cycle batteries. An on-board charger is located in the compartment with the batteries. A battery gauge is part of the charger, but a remote battery monitor is a nice accessory to have. All batteries are installed in battery trays that are bolted to the floor in the battery compartments.

Install batteries in trays bolted to floor

Rod holders are a necessity in a tournament boat. Trolling has become the way to catch big fish in almost every tournament. Hand holding planer boards or lead core rods gets tiresome and is not practical. Mount your rod holders where the rod handles won’t be in the way inside the boat and are easily reached when a fish is on. I’ve started to order my boats with rails so that I can adjust the rod holder locations to fit the situation. On the bow I’ve permanently mounted the rods holders within easy reach of the seat. These are bolted through the thick aluminum gunwale with nylon locking nuts.

Properly mounted rod holders

Last, let’s not forget about the spare parts and tools.

     • Extra transducers for the sonar
     • Extra GPS antenna
     • Bow sonar and console sonar that are                          interchangeable in case one breaks
     • Extra prop and hardware for main motor
     • Extra prop and hardware for bow mount
     • Extra pump canisters for bilge and livewells
     • Extra key and safety lanyard
     • Fuses
     • Tools and materials to fix anything on the boat
     • Crimp connectors and tape for quick splices
     • Jumper cables

Is this enough preparation for a tough day in a tournament situation? Probably not, this is just a start. As you learn about your boat and what will break, you’ll learn what else you need to do to assure a successful return, on-time, in any conditions.



© 2024 Dan Swanson
About the author, Dan Swanson:
Dan Swanson is a multi-species guide in Northern Colorado. He is an instructor and seminar speaker on fishing techniques with a specialty around the use of fishing electronics. Dan competes professionally in walleye tournaments around North America. He is on the Pro-Staff for Ranger Boats, Evinrude, Lowrance, St. Croix Rods and Costa Del Mar.